14750 Six Mile Cypress Parkway, Fort Myers, FL 33912, USA
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As I share this message, Valentine’s Day cards are exchanged, flowers are sent…love is always in the air in middle-February.  Sadly, fraud is, as well.

Those searching for that romantic connection often turn to online dating resources hoping to meet that special someone.  The ongoing pandemic has left many lonely and isolated, perhaps making them a bit more eager to find a soulmate.

During this already difficult time, the number of reports of online dating fraud have grown exponentially.

Online “romance fraud” generally contains two elements: establishing trust with the victim and requesting money/personal identification information.

Scammers skillfully earn your trust as they lead their victims to believe that a special love is blossoming between them.  That feeling of “love” happens quickly as time is of the essence in these scams.  Photos are exchanged and the victim receives smiling photographs of an attractive individual searching for love.

Words of endearment such a “honey,” darling,” and “sweetheart” quickly find their way into the messages and the victim’s heart begins to flutter.

Once the bait is taken, scammers begin their work.  Requests for cash, gift cards and/or personal identifying information are made.  They may share their remarkable business prowess and offer the victim an opportunity to invest their income.  Problems may arise and the victim is asked for a “brief loan.”  Victims are even used for the purpose of money-laundering.

Interestingly, and despite all offers to finally meet, the scammer is unable to make a personal appearance.  Planned visits are “postponed.”  A relative has become ill making the trip impossible.  The scammer claims to have COVID-19 and must remain isolated.  There are scores of reasons why the victim will never meet the “love of their life.”

It is likely that the scammer is simultaneously maintaining similar “relationships” with dozens of other unsuspecting individuals and, once the victim shows an unwillingness to part with gift cards, send cash, etc., the “once in a lifetime” relationship abruptly ends.

During this Valentine’s Day season and throughout the year, be cautious when interacting online with people that you have never met.  Should you have seniors and/or vulnerable individuals in your life, please take time to discuss these fraudulent activities.

Should you be victimized by internet crime, please reach out to the Lee County Sheriff’s Office via my fraud line 239-258-3292 or report online by visiting my public website https://www.sheriffleefl.org/file-online-report/ and select “Online Phone Scam.”